Editor’s note: The Champaign County Historical Society is sharing with readers a collection of “Then and Now” photos of the area.
In 1908 “Eden Hill” had the address of 72 W. Main St., Mechanicsburg, according to a postcard that was mailed THEN. It was the home of John Joseph Ware (1841-1922) and his wife Josephine Jones Ware (1841-1923). It was where they raised their children Thomas B. Ware (1865-1951) and Enid Ware Foster (1866-1951), both attorneys. The home was then considered beyond the edge of Mechanicsburg.
Both of their children also lived here with their spouses Mrs.Edna G. Ware (1866-1951) and Mr. Owen Foster (1861-1936) and their children Donald Ware (1894-1912), Janet Ware (1900-1906), Ferryl Foster (1900-1985), and Joseph W. Foster (1904-1979). All three generations lived in this large home together with a servant. All but the last two also died in this home. It was then considered the Wares’ house.
JJ Ware was a successful farmer and businessman, a historical author and poet, and an abolitionist, not to be confused with his father Jacob R. Ware. who was also a successful business man and farmer who lived on West Sandusky Street and was also a strong abolitionist living to be 97. Sadly all grandchildren with the Ware last name did not survive to carry on the name. The Wares’ descendent branches had the last names of Foster, May, Sabine or Burnham.
The postcard stamped 1902 includes a message by Mrs. Edna G. Ware to a friend saying that Donald (her son) just took the photograph and that while it was quite good of the house that it didn’t do justice to the very pretty grounds. Note, both of Thomas and Edna’s children died before their time, Janet in 1906 and Donald, the photographer in 1912. In 1951, Thomas and Edna and his sister Enid all died the same year and Owen previously in 1936.
NOW this home fittingly serves as a beautiful funeral home and is still beautifully landscaped. Sometime after 1922 the address changed to 257 W. Main and is NOW in the corporation limits of Mechanicsburg. The early Mechanicsburg funeral business named Davis & Byers Furniture and Undertaking was originally downtown on North Main, near the center of town, across the street from the Masonic Temple, according to a 1917 advertisement. In 1938, the business discontinued the furniture sales to concentrate solely on funeral services by the owners Tom Davis and Ed Byers. It became more popular to have bereavement services in locations other than one’s private home or church.
In 1957, Byers’ nephew, Donald Skillman, bought the funeral home business and moved it to its current location at 257 W. Main. The home was completely transformed by Skillman to accommodate the needs of the families he served with modern day accommodations and to put to good use the large charming well built home in this picturesque, beautifully landscaped, location, now as it was then. Skillman sold it 30 years later to Don McDonald, who in 2003 turned it over to present owners and operators Vernon Family Funeral Homes. Dave and Tammy Vernon are continuing a long tradition of a locally family-owned service on West Main Street combined with two other locations in Champaign County.
Oh by the way, how many people knew that NOW photographer Dick Virts is a cousin of the Skillman family by way of the Conway name? Now that is more than some of you wanted to know, but, after all, it is all a story about our Champaign County family history THEN and NOW.
Submitted by the Champaign County Historical Society.